One of the sculptures, “Archive of Lost Dreams” from back (left) and front.
The underwater museum is still a work in progress, set to open to the public not before 2011. However, four sculptures were already submerged on November 19 in the Caribbean waters, a mere 1% of the 400 that are planned. Snorkelers and scuba divers already got a preview of the underwater museum that will be the world’s largest once finished.
A sculpture being hoisted down just a few weeks earlier.
The idea is for the sculptures – all made of pH-neutral concrete – to attract algae and marine life and therefore soon take on a life of their own, giving the local ecosystem a boost. The existing coral reef in Quintana Roo’s West Coast National Park where the museum will be situated has suffered damage from recent hurricanes and human activity: Inexperienced divers, for example, who break corals by walking on them or swimming too close to them and accidentally hitting them with a fin or oxygen tank.
Diving around Isla Mujeres.
The new sculpture park could lure some of the area’s 750,000 annual visitors away, allowing existing coral reefs to regenerate and give marine life a break, therefore giving the whole area a greater chance of withstanding damage from future hurricanes.
Map of Yucatan with Cancun in the north east.
Reefs are an important part of coastal protection, currently benefiting 300 million people worldwide. Explains Roberto Iglesias Prieto of the Autonomous National University of Mexico’s Institute of Sea and Lake Sciences: “In a hurricane, 99 percent of power in waves is dissipated in the reef, thereby protecting human lives and property.”
The durable sculptures will have no negative effect on the local marine eco system; on the contrary, they will be reclaimed by nature. Artist Jason deCaires Taylor, in charge of creating the sculptures, stresses the environmental aspect of the project: “Within two weeks, we will see green algae. … Then within a few months, juvenile algae will appear and the project will progress from there.”
The recently installed “Gardener of Hope”.
But that’s not to say that tourism is bad, after all, it’s a 36-million-dollar industry. In fact, an important aim of the Subaquatic Sculpture Museum will be to attract more visitors to an area that has been hard hit by the recession and a visitor decline due to all the negative publicity that came with the swine flu virus. In an effort to channel tourism and combine it with the preservation of a natural habitat, visitors can take an active part in documenting the area’s progress.
The idea is not new; after a cruise ship accident that destroyed 500 sq m of coral reef in Punta Cancún in 1997, the Mexican government has banned all tourist access to the reef while looking for alternative attractions and diving sites. In 2005, 110 hollow domes and concrete structures were submerged to create Sac Bajo, an artifical habitat now popular with divers. And the reef damaged in 1997 is now in the best condition of surrounding reefs.
Marine life at La Cherna, Cancun – the Caribbean Feather Star.
Oxford University’s conservation lecturer Dr. Paul Jepson embraces the idea of the museum:
“Conservationists need to find different ways of engaging with the world. Artists should get involved in environmental matters so it is not just scientists trying to get the message out there.”
We couldn’t agree more and look forward to reporting on the museum’s progress soon.
More about Jason deCaires Taylor’s work on his website.